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At this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, technology will play a crucial role in helping host city Rio de Janeiro ensure that the events run as smoothly as possible.
The IT challenges are vast. From strategic planning to logistics, there is a myriad of systems and behind-the-scenes infrastructure put together over the last four years to support athlete performance and to ensure the smooth running of the competitions for organisers and the public.
Co-ordinated by CIO Elly Resende, the technology will support delegations from 206 countries, with 10,500 athletes competing during the competition. This setup is also an important factor in the experience of more than 25,000 journalists, heads of state and thousands of tourists who will be attending the Games and visiting Rio for the first time.
According to Resende, the technology prep is on track, and a taskforce is in place to ensure that all the technical services that were mapped, designed and agreed with all the stakeholders are rolled out and in operation at each of the Olympic venues.
“We still have some contract remainders to conclude, but we have practically completed all of the contracting and engagement of all our partners, so we are all set in terms of our technical solutions,” Resende tells Computer Weekly.
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Major IT providers
With a budget of R$1.5bn (£344m), the Rio Games’ key technology suppliers include Atos, Cisco and local telecoms giant Embratel.
Atos coordinates the Technology Operations Center (TOC) for the Games, monitoring and controlling IT systems that allow the staging of the competitions and overseeing all 144 competition and non-competition venues.
Another major partner, Cisco, is providing items such as all the network devices and Wi-Fi points, 500 servers, and firewall and intrusion prevention system equipment, as well as the security of redundant devices. Embratel, the telecom infrastructure partner, has a 55,000km optic cable network and two datacentres, and will provide services such as voice and data, high-resolution video broadcasting and unified communications.
Other technology partners are Samsung, Panasonic, EMC, Microsoft, Omega and Symantec.
Time to deliver
It is all going according to the original schedule, Resende says. All technology contracts were in place by May. Right now, the team has stopped having “wholesale-type” concerns regarding aspects of technology and will start applying a “retail approach” to each of the delivery points, which include permanent and temporary venues.
“We are now working on the delivery of these solutions simultaneously at each venue. Within every venue there is an element of consecutiveness, where each area takes care of a specific aspect,” Resende says.
“Technology comes in first, with the backbone, the fibre, the necessary cabling. Then the infrastructure folk will make spaces available for us with power, cooling and so on. We come in once more to do the last stage of horizontal cabling to cater for each point, and that is followed by logistics coming in with furniture and so on. Then we come in again at the last stage with the actual equipment,” the CIO explains.
This is the time to deal with some last-minute technology requests too. According to Resende, these are less related to users such as journalists – one of the key customer segments the Brazilian committee is serving, with a dedicated support team – and more to do with other stakeholders.
“What usually happens is that international federations will ask for a service that wasn’t mapped previously, in which case we have to verify if it’s possible to cater for that demand or not. It’s quite normal and inevitable to get requests like these in an implementation this size, regardless of how much work has gone into the mapping stage,” he says.
According to Resende, Rio is also using technologies that weren’t used in London.
“For example, we are rolling out Wi-Fi access in the buses used by the media. This brings some challenges that are inherent to the delivery, but it is one of the evolutions that we are seeing this year,” the CIO adds.
Core web portals supporting key aspects of the Games such as volunteer activities and credential management will, for the first time in the history of the Games, be hosted in a private cloud environment. According to Resende, this was introduced alongside a server virtualisation effort, which halved the number of physical boxes needed to run some other Olympic systems.
Another novelty is the inclusion of sports such as golf and rugby in the Olympics. That did not necessarily bring challenges, but it did bring new elements to consider in terms of technology delivery.
“I would say [the inclusion of new sports] resulted in a need for more mapping, for things like the sensors utilised in golf, for example, which required more preparation from our end.”
Technology has also played a key role in keeping tabs on the Olympic budget. According to the CIO, the initial plan was to use R$2bn (£465m) worth of public sector resources to stage the Games overall, but the competitions will now be staged without that money given the current recession Brazil is experiencing.
Improvements introduced to make that possible include the rationalisation of spaces, with infrastructure optimised and shared. This has reduced the need for equipment such as computers and printers.
“We have substantially reduced the printing consumption here compared to the London Games, where there was a massive amount of printed results,” Resende says. He adds that in Rio, even with more venues and more sports, print output will be about 30% down on the previous Olympiad.
Other innovations for the Rio Games include real-time results generation for all paralympic competitions rather than only those being televised, as was the case in London. There will also be more convergence between the electronic score boards and video screens at venues, something that started in Sochi and will be further exploited this year.
“Instead of having an electronic scoreboard that was usually monochrome, with a lower-resolution screen used for graphics, we’re using only one element, a larger screen where both the score and video are displayed on the big screen, giving a better experience and entertainment for viewers at venues,” the CIO says.
Four years ago, one of the main concerns for London 2012 CIO Gerry Pennell was connectivity. This is also a major priority for the Rio team, given Brazil's challenges in terms of the – still developing – local infrastructure and the increased demand for mobile data.
“Connectivity is a big area of attention for us indeed. The organising committee has worked hard on this alongside the telecom operators and the Brazilian regulator to provide an infrastructure for the expected service demand, and I feel we have accomplished the mission to make everything available that they will need to do a good job,” Resende says.
The work done around ensuring connectivity, such as the 370km of optic fibre laid out by Embratel to build the Olympic backbone, will also be a significant aspect of the technology legacy for the city of Rio, according to the executive.
Other technology legacy aspects include computing equipment. The 2,000 PCs purchased by the organising committee will be donated to the Rio city government at the end of the Games.
The 8,000-strong workforce involved with the technology work carried out over the last four years to stage the Games is also mentioned by Resende as a significant legacy, not only for Rio but the whole of Brazil.
“Our legacy is thousands of people dedicated to technology, skilled and able to work in mission-critical environments”
Elly Resende, Rio Games CIO
“We are talking about thousands of people dedicated to technology, who are now skilled and able to work in mission-critical environments and would definitely be useful in a myriad of market segments. This is a bit less tangible but definitely something very important,” the CIO adds.
Resende cites the experience with the team over the years and being able to work within a multicultural environment – Brazilian organisations are typically staffed with locals – as one of the most interesting aspects of the job so far.
“Here we have the fun of working with people from all five continents, and working with them and getting to know the cultural and business differences has been an incredible experience,” Resende says.
After it’s all over
Following the Games, the CIO – who is no stranger to large sporting events, having acted as the telecoms head for the Rio Pan-American Games of 2007 – says he will not be making any immediate plans.
“This has been an unforgettable project so far and I am dedicating all of my bandwidth to it. I have committed to not worry about the next step and will take a few months of sabbatical leave to rest and only then think about the next step. My priority right now is to ensure everything to do with the Games technology goes without a hitch.”